Agencies, if you want to attract and retain women, you have to pay fair!

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Posted: Jun 2022

When we asked corporate comms professionals about their salary, bonus, and benefits in our recent annual Salary Guide, one of the most striking findings was the distribution of bonuses among male and female respondents. Both male and female in-house professionals were given an average bonus of 18% of their base salary. A fair and square distribution. The same could not be said about the distribution of bonuses in agencies, however. The average bonus for agency men was 23% of base salary, but for women a mere 8%. Not only is this unfair, but it also does little when it comes to attracting female talent to the agencies.

Our survey also asked (men and) women what they want when they consider a role either in-house or in an agency. The responses from women were similar for both in-house and agency roles; let’s break down the findings for the agency role.

71% of women want challenging and interesting work, 67% place importance on hybrid working, and 65% will look at the salary and bonus on offer – so a bonus offering is very important. It’s ranked higher than work-life balance (61%) and recognition (57%). It could be a deal breaker. It counts.

The discrepancy in agency bonuses is hard to explain; it’s based on work that was carried out during 2021. What were women not doing that men were doing for this huge difference to have come to light? We know that bonuses are often rewarded in part for bringing in new business. Yet we have spoken with many senior women who were bringing in lots of business in 2021.

While the explanation may not be obvious, the takeaway is glaringly clear – to attract and retain female talent, agencies need to look very carefully at how they reward their bonuses, and it is not in their best interest to overlook the women on their teams.

Time and again, when we meet with CEOs from corporate and financial comms agencies, they say how they would love more women as partners and to be part of the board. This is particularly true of the financial comms-focussed agencies, where boards are often predominately male.

In reality, attracting and retaining women to agencies isn't easy; agency life is challenging. Many female professionals move from agencies to in-house comms teams 5-6 years into their career, seeking more balance.

So, how can agencies retain their female talent? Women looking for agency roles want to work in a great place, where their talent is recognised and rewarded fairly, where there is no gender discrimination. They want to be able move up the ranks as easily as their male counterparts, and not feel as though they need to move in-house to be treated and rewarded fairly.

Agencies can’t really expect to balance their leadership teams when they are not making agencies attractive places to work for senior women.

What needs to change?

We recommend starting with blind recruitment, where all references to gender, diversity, and social-economic backgrounds are removed; this would make the pipeline of talent much more diverse. When you make the effort to change the dynamic and gain more balance and diversity within the business, it can be a game-changer as it will attract further diversity. While it can take years for this to be reflected at the partner level, there is no harm starting now.

Sounds obvious but pay fairly! Men and women should receive the same salary, and the same bonuses too. No excuses, no nonsense. Women, by nature, may not be shouting as loudly as the men, but bonuses are really important to agency women so overlook them at your peril!

Ask your female employees if they are feeling challenged and interested in their work – this is extremely important to them, and if you recognise that, it will help retain and motivate them.

Invest in training at ALL levels – don’t overlook learning as it can be fun and make things interesting and challenging, which again will appeal greatly to female employees.

Is your maternity benefit offering up to date? There are agencies out there offering 9-12 months of maternity leave at full pay. It’s a generous offering that will show you value your female employees; don’t give them a good reason to move in-house.

Finally, female employees are often balancing family life and childcare with their career, so ensure that your flexible working policies have moved with the post-pandemic landscape, and work for everyone!

The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email

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